It was a gray, brisk day in early April, and while most gardeners in the northeast anxiously waited for Memorial Day to do their planting, a group of women gathered in the Nazareth College greenhouse to admire their already blooming begonias and amaryllis.
Since January, *Luisa, *Susan, *Alice and *Karen have visited the greenhouse weekly to plant seeds, and then water and care for the plants that have helped them regain the language skills they lost due to chronic aphasia. Aphasia is the impairment of the ability to understand and/or express ideas in language, usually as a result of a stroke or other brain injury.
The visits are part of a new collaboration between the School of Health and Human Services'(SHHS) speech-language pathology program and the College of Arts and Sciences' (CAS) biology department. The women are clients of the aphasia clinic, an on-campus facility where speech-language therapy students develop clinical skills while delivering affordable services to underserved adults in the Rochester community with aphasia.
The idea of having clients in the aphasia clinic work in the greenhouse came about when Associate Professor of Biology Beverly Brown started working toward becoming a registered horticultural therapist. A trained botanist, Brown not only teaches in the biology department, but is also director of the greenhouse.
"Using a horticultural therapy approach has the potential to improve outcomes," said Brown. "When the focus of the client becomes the plant and not the skill they're trying to develop, the skill can develop naturally."
Sandhya Seshadri, an instructor in the communication sciences and disorders department who supervises the student clinicians in the greenhouse, added, "We use a life-participation approach which is different from medical treatment in a hospital setting. The students have an opportunity to go beyond traditional evaluation and therapy."
The life-participation approach involves providing a daily living activity, such as gardening, in a natural environment where clients can use language. Many people with chronic aphasia have sequencing issues, or understanding the steps it takes to complete a task. The students take the task of planting seeds or thinning plants and break it down into steps. They then go over the steps with the clients and help them through the process of completing the task.
"It's here," said Susan as she pointed to her head. "But it's frustrating. I can't say it." Megan Hyland '09G reads over the instructions with Susan once again. A few moments later, Luisa had trouble saying the word "labeled." Susan jumped in and helped Luisa communicate the next step. "It's one thing for me to work with them as a professional, but it's another for them to be around other aphasia clients who actually understand what they're going through," said Seshadri. "They bond, and that's very important."
"Collaborations between arts and sciences and professional programs prove themselves time and time again to be significantly beneficial to students, faculty, and to their community partners," said Deborah Dooley, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "We are evaluating the potential for a certificate and/or minor [in horticultural therapy], but much exploration needs to be done before we can commit to this."
"I hope to join CAS in exploring a program in horticultural therapy," said Shirley Szekeres, dean of the School of Health and Human Services. "At Nazareth, our health professions programs are built upon a firm foundation of liberal arts and sciences. We want to take it a step further and help students more effectively translate their liberal arts education into professional practice, which will help assure that we are treating the whole person."
*To protect the privacy of the clients, surnames were not included in this story.